lope de vegaIntroduction

Lope de Vega (1562-1635) might be as famous as Shakespeare had the Spanish Armada defeated the English. Born in modest circumstances, Félix Lope de Vega Carpio progressed from child prodigy to celebrated adventurer, courtier, poet and playwright. His life would make a Hollywood swashbuckler several times over. Innumerable affairs, elopements and scandals; military expeditions to the Azores and against Portugal and England; successful courtier and theatre man; retirement to the priesthood, probably genuine, though no hindrance to continuing with the stage and love affairs.

The literary achievement is staggering. Lyrics, sonnets, pastorals, verse epics, and some 2,200 plays, of which 500 still survive. And, for all the prodigious output — he could write a play a day — Lope de Vega remains Spain's greatest playwright: many of the plays are still performed and the poetry is part of every Spaniard's education.

What was the secret of such output? Belief in an age that was already passing. Just as the Elizabethan renaissance blossomed after England's entry onto the world stage, the golden age of Spanish literature basked in the afterglow of the country's great wealth and prestige. Lope de Vega's plays generally fall into two categories: the 'cloak and sword' depictions of contemporary intrigues and manners, and the historical plays based on Spanish stories and legends. Many of the themes have become familiar in Spanish literature, notably those of family honour and revenge. Essentially, however, Lope de Vega was a master of comedy, and in this way different from his great contemporary, Caldéron de la Barca.

There's hardly an excuse for not attempting the Spanish, the lingua franca of Latin American and fast becoming the most spoken tongue in the USA. A good dictionary should enable you read El Caballero de Olmeda, El Castigo sin Venganza, Fuenteovejuna, and La Dama Boba. But if you want to master Spanish properly, then the Internet offers many learning sites, books, cassettes and CDs. They open the door to one of the world's great literatures — other work of the golden age, the pre-Revolution poetry, the novels and short stories of Spain and Latin America.

Particularly useful for Lope de Vega may be: E. Pierce's The Heroic Poem of the Spanish Golden Age (1947), P.D. Tettenborn's Spanish Lyrics of the Golden Age (1952), Rennert and Castro's Vida de Lope de Vega (1919), F. Rico's Historia y Critica de la Literatura Española (1980) and F.J. Oinas's Heroic Epic and Saga (1978).

Suggestion: Lope de Vega: Three Major Plays. Translated by Gwynne Edwards. O.U.P. 1991. $10.36

Three of the best-known plays in an excellent translation: Fuente Ovejuna, The Knight from Olmedo and Punishment without Revenge. The first suggests a remedy for civil disobedience against the unjust rulers. The second is a story of love and heroism, and the third deals with that perennial topic of Spanish literature: passionate love and its dangers.


C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.